ISLANDERS 2 LIGHTNING 0 (EN) Nabokov shutout inches Isles closer to…playoffs?

Keith Quinn , Islanders Point Blank:

Despite missing regulars Michael Grabner (IR/shoulder), Colin McDonald (illness) and returnee Jesse Joensuu (not ready), the Isles played a strong road game to start their Florida trip.  The Usual Scratchspects David Ullstrom and Keith Aucoin looked active and appeared to do the little things that coach Jack Capuano wants to see out of them, (pucks deep, battle level, etc.).  Ullstrom left the game late in the third with an unspecified injury, but was favoring a leg. For the Lightning, Vincent Lecavalier missed the game

The win puts the Isles four points out of 6th with Toronto losing to Pittsburgh, the Devils idle, and one point out of 8th with the Rangers losing at the time of this writing 2-1 to Winnipeg.  Regardless of who wins the Ranger game, that hurts the Isles and will mean that they will be down by 3 for 8th, but it’s not too far off.  Whoever wins, you can only hope it’s in regulation to not be hurt by the mystery point. The Rangers also have a game in hand on the rest of the field.

First Period:

Anders Lindback was the story of the period.  There weren’t a lot of great chances despite the Isles having a 13-6 shots advantage.  The best Isles chances in the period came from the usual suspects, the first line.  Matt Moulson (1 goal in previous seven) was involved in both with the first being him alone in front only for the long reach of Victor Hedman getting a piece of it.

The second good chance was a big sliding save by Lindback as the puck pinballed off John Tavares off a point shot over to Moulson who got a weak shot off.  Of note, David Ullstrom and Keith Aucoin looked particularly active with both totaling over 4 minutes and getting a couple of hits and generally forechecking well.  Lubomir Visnovsky continued to show a knack for finding the soft spot in a defense and carrying the puck into it and creating some space allowing forwards to get to the net. On one play in particular he got a shot and rebound off Lindback that a crashing Matt Martin has a shot at, but Lindback ate it up.

The broadcast crew was noting that Capuano was trying to match the Nielsen/Bailey/Okposo line against the Lightning Stamkos line while the Lightning were countering with old pal Nate Thompson and crew against Tavares

Second Period:

The Isles started the period out strong getting the first five shots and generally carrying play.  David Ullstrom was again active getting a good shot off that went wide and on the same shift, he set up Andrew MacDonald by pulling up inside the offensive zone and giving him a pass up the seam in the middle.  Lindback  got a piece of a very good shot though.

There was some questionable use of the Eric Boulton line in this period.  Twice that line was hemmed in by the Stamkos line and Tampa got some good chances and cycled well.  The second time it happened though, somehow Matt Martin drew a slashing penalty for the Isles first power play of the game.

After some cycling around the zone, Mark Streit fired a light wrister down the middle through traffic that bounced off of Brad Boyes right to Moulson in front.  Moulson backhanded a pass across the crease to John Tavares for the easy tap in to an empty net.

The Isles killed off a Mark Streit penalty late and carried a 22-12 shot advantage through two.

Third Period:

The Isles inexplicably came out flat in the third. They were getting trapped in their zone forcing Evgeni Nabokov to come up with a couple of big saves.  Notably, he got a blocker on a St. Louis shot that was deflected by Stamkos while he was moving in the opposite direction.  Several more missed clearing attempts and icings later, Capuano used his timeout.

A minute or so later, unlikely sources Marty Reasoner and Matt Martin had a glorious chance only thwarted by the 6’6″ leg of Lindback.   Reasoner knocked Stamkos down in the Isles zone and headed up ice.  Martin gained the Tampa zone and hit Reasoner up the middle and Reasoner made the same move Tavares did in the shootout against Ottawa.  Lindback dragged his leg though and kicked the puck out.

Despite a low shot total, the Lightning continued to dominate the period forcing Butch goring to continue the mantra of getting pucks deep.  Frans Nielsen took a holding penalty on one of these depth failures and with the absence of Grabner, that effectively eliminated the Isles two best killers.  The rest did an admirable job, but the best was Nabokov.  He came up big on Islander killer Ryan Malone multiple times on tip ins and fought off a Stamkos shot as well.  Matt Martin blocked a heavy shot and was stung by it, and Josh Bailey did some admirable board work and positioned himself very well to take away shooting lanes.

Brad Boyes iced it with an empty netter at 19:20 after some furious goal mouth battles and saves by Nabokov as he flailed around the crease under heavy pressure.

Next up, the Isles have injury plagued Florida Panthers on Saturday.  Depending on the severity of Ullstrom’s injury, the Isles may make a call up from Bridgeport, but the more likely scenario may be that Jesse Joensuu is ready at that point to take his place.

Noticings:

  • The Isles played some solid defense tonight across the board.  They limited St. Louis and Stamkos to four shots between them in a combined 57:11 of ice time.
  • Despite leaving with the injury, David Ullstrom played his second most minutes of the season (13:24) and probably would’ve eclipsed his season high against Winnipeg (13:41).
  • Seriously, the Isles are two points out of 6th.
  • Holding this team (88 goals) to a shutout is impressive considering the usual state of the Isles defense and goaltending.  If they start reversing the save percentage and goals against average a bit, this could get very interesting.
  • Eric Boulton continues to get mind boggling amounts of time for an enforcer (7:53 tonight).  He bleeds shots against and zone time.  This is not an effective strategy especially against teams that generally don’t carry an enforcer or take many penalties.
  • It’s nice to be on the other side of an empty net goal.